Passion sparked by a toy keyboard

Passion sparked by a toy keyboard

Caroline Bergan releases debut single, “Criminal.”
Published: December 7, 2022

Four-year-old Caroline Bergan sat on her living room floor in front of the fireplace. Her little fingers danced across a toy keyboard as her parents carried on with their daily tasks. 

It was Christmas time and the room was decorated for the season. The pine tree in the corner was covered with hand-crafted ornaments and a snow globe sat on the coffee table. Bergan occupied her time by pressing the little white keys and pushing the miscellaneous buttons. Listening to the sounds that filled the living room, she had no idea it was the beginning of something significant.

“When I was super little, I had this small toy keyboard,” said Bergan. “I would play with it all day. It was the only toy I wanted to play with. I feel like that toy keyboard sparked that musical desire.”

Bergan, 21, is a senior Music Education major at Syracuse University with a voice specialty in jazz and commercial music. She has been a commercial musician since the summer of 2021. She also began writing her own music in 2021 and is in the process of recording and releasing it. After a year of making music, Bergan released her first single, “Criminal,” on December 2.

Bergan grew up in Potsdam, a small town in upstate New York about 20 miles south of the Canada border.  She spent her self-described “wholesome” childhood outside with her neighbors and playing with the toy keyboard that sparked her love for music.

“We would be outside all day,” said Bergan “My feet would be dirty and my parents would have to drag us in for dinner. ”

The summer before she started fourth grade, Bergan joined a community theater program’s production of “Annie.” The same year, she began taking piano lessons. After positive feedback from the people around her, she realized that she had a talent for music.

“It was really cool but really intense for being so young,” said Bergan. “We had rehearsals six or seven days a week. The director was from NYC. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I ended up loving it. My mom was scared that I’d miss out, but I was there every day and I loved being there every day.”

Caroline Bergan sits in a field with her guitar.
Caroline Bergan, a singer-songwriter and Syracuse University senior, just released her debut single, "Criminal."

From then on, Bergan turned to music when faced with struggles. When she was dealing with conflict, she would go to her school auditorium to play piano and sing for hours on end. She found comfort in the lyrics of the music she listened to. 

As a senior in college, Bergan still turns to music to cope, but now she creates her own. She wrote her first song, “Dear Stranger,” in the fall of her junior year. Like most people, Bergan’s life had been turned upside down for the previous years by the Covid-19 pandemic. She found herself living alone and contemplating human interaction. 

“I started really thinking about human interaction more and how we talk to each other and how people regard me,” said Bergan. “I had this idea, but I didn’t know what to do with it. At this point, I’d never written a song before.”

A toy keyboard

“Dear Stranger” received positive feedback from professors, classmates, and audiences. Bergan submitted the song in the 2022 NAfME Student Songwriters Competition and received an honorable mention. Professors from Syracuse University accepted the award on Bergan’s behalf on November 4.

Bergan said that a lot of people connected with her song.

“The first time I performed it was at Music and Message here and people came up to me after and asked for the lyrics and the chords,” said Bergan. “It was on Facebook and I had a bunch of people comment. That motivated me to write more.”

Since she began writing songs, Bergan has already written nine originals.

Bergan’s creative process begins with an idea, sometimes a word or a phrase. She sits with the idea for a period of time, ranging from a few days to a few months. 

“Once I feel like I have a conclusion of my thoughts,” said Bergan “Then I’m like ‘I need to write a song.’ It’s like a realization that I need to put it all down. So when I feel that click, I’ll sit on my bed with my guitar and have something to write on and I have to write that song in the time that I’m sitting there.”

Two girls stand on stage doing a dance

Once she finishes writing, Bergan records segments of the song on her phone using the voice memo app. According to Bergan, she has countless voice memos on her phone. She’ll come back to the recordings a few days later to determine if she likes the song or if components need to be changed around or tweaked. Once she’s happy with a song, she’ll send it to friends to get feedback.

“I was so lucky to live with her and be able to hear the first drafts of much of her music,” said Brielle Seidel, Bergan’s previous roommate. “Sometimes I suggest emphasizing certain words differently or rewriting phrases altogether. Sometimes all her music needs is a little touch to really drive the piece home. Caroline does all the work, and I am just lucky to help edit and give feedback from a listener’s perspective.”

This year, Bergan has started recording her music. According to Bergan, she doesn’t know how to record on her own, so she gets help from other music students. 

“Working with Carol has been a ton of fun,” said Brandon Ferrante, audio engineer and Syracuse University senior. “She’s a fantastic songwriter and working with someone as talented as her really makes everything so easy. She has a strong vision for what she wants each record to sound like and is already honed in on her unique style.” 

Despite her accomplishments, it has not always been easy for Bergan to follow her passion for music, especially when it comes to her decision to study music in college. 

“There was a lot of conflict with the people around me and my parents,” said Bergan. “Because everyone was like ‘you’re too smart to study music.’ They wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer, something that has that pretty label. But I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to follow my passion, so here I am.”

When Bergan arrived at Syracuse University and began her music education, she struggled to keep up with classmates who had more previous music education. 

“I was in a place where everyone is super good and everyone is very knowledgeable, and I wasn’t so much,” she said. “I came from this very small school that didn’t have a lot of musical resources. It felt like a different language that I had to adapt to. I ended up hating something I loved. I was at the point where I hated school and I felt guilty playing music outside of school because it felt very unproductive.”

Because she has always used music as an outlet for stress, studying it took a toll on Began. However, these struggles are what led her to start creating her own music.

“It’s how I got myself out of the rut of hating music school because I didn’t have to focus on school when I was songwriting,” said Bergan. “It was creative and about mindfulness.”

Despite the obstacles, Bergan’s passion for music has remained. She credits the people in her life who support her, including her parents and band members. 

“My parents and community didn’t necessarily want me to go to music school, but everything has changed,” said Bergan. “It’s my parents’ pride and joy. They love nothing more than seeing me perform. They will drop everything and drive hours to come see me perform. They’re always sharing videos. It feels like everyone wants me to do well and that’s so motivating for me. It means a lot to me, but it also means a lot to the people around me.”

Bergan hopes to move to Nashville after graduating and is in the process of applying for schools there. Eventually, she hopes to become a music teacher.